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Elayne Savage. Ph.D. -- The Rejection Expert Elayne Savage. Ph.D. -- The Rejection Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: San Francisco, CA
Monday, August 2, 2021


By Elayne Savage, PhD

Thumbnail          ©  Can Stock Photo / Prazis     Composite by Elayne Savage

Back in June, 2018 I blogged about my intense feelings about the apparent exploitation of the immigrant children separated from their parents at the border, many shuffled across the country.

Because the government did not keep records on thousands of children, there has been no way for their parents to locate them. There is a good possibility many are being exploited through human traffickingThe DHS website defines Human Trafficking as                                                                  :  

  • Sex Trafficking 
  • Forced Labor
  • Domestic Servitude         

From reports, much of this exploitation could be by farm labor.

I wondered in my June blog if the youngest and most desirable of these separated children might even be exploited by being offered for adoption.

And now come reports of sexual assault in massive numbers. Some incidents are by staff, some are by one minor abusing another - which means the children are not being supervised adequately. Some reports are determined to be unfounded but the numbers are still disturbing.

This reporting is from NPR:


Here is my earlier blog (6/23/18) about my concerns regarding the abandonment and exploitation of and these children:

Like many others I'm stunned and alarmed by the increasingly heartbreaking stories coming from our U.S. Southern border.

Maybe it’s because I’ve worked so many years with abandoned children and adults who continue to deal with childhood traumas, but I’m finding myself sensing an ominous cloud hovering over the children who have been separated from their parents.

My ominous feeling even overshadows how these children have been abandoned to pen-like structures in minimally adequate institutional quarters.

My feeling intensified after hearing how some children have been placed in Foster Care with strangers, scattered over various U.S. states including New York, Michigan and South Carolina.

Can you imagine the panic experienced by the children – and their parents?

My feeling grew even more intense with the discovery that babies and toddlers have been placed in three or more facilities named ‘Tender Age,’ where staff is unable to hold and comfort them because the rules say “No touching."

My fears spiked again upon learning that several administrators reported there are no procedures in place or even a database or functional tracking numbers for reuniting parents and their children. Now the Health and Human Services Secretary is lauding their capabilities: "with just basic keystrokes, within seconds (we) could find any child in our care for any parent."

So which statement is true? According to attorneys working with the parents, there are many unaccounted for children now scattered across the country.

Former director of ICE, John Sandweg, states “Once you separate those families, you run a serious risk that they’ll never see each other again.” This thought is so incredibly heartbreaking. How hopeless the children must feel!

Yet here and there some positive stories trickle into the news:

A mother and her 7-year old son were just reunited after she filed a federal lawsuit and her son was released into her custody. Earlier she was quoted as saying, "I call and call and no one will tell me where he is.”

One 5 year-old boy was finally released after being detained for 85 days. He was covered with lice and apparently not given a shower during his confinement.

A 20-month-old baby was released after 86 days in detention – how sad to realize that’s 1/7 th of his life!

And more good news – a Trump administration senior official claims about 522 of the more than 2,300 children separated from families have been reunited as of  June 20. According to HHS this leaves 2053 children still detained. HHS, however, has not yet provided a time line for the promised reunification of these children.

Yes, there was an executive order just signed by President Trump ruling that families crossing the border will still be arrested and prosecuted, and they will be confined together for an undetermined length of time, rather than having the children taken away.

These children will apparently be remaining for an unknown period of time in shelters and institutional detention facilities. Under the executive order they will keep waiting in custody, with reunifications only happening once the parents' deportation proceedings are completed.

And what happens to the children who are not receiving needed medications or medical attention? That is considered to be medical neglect.

And what about recent reports that parents are being deported before recovering their children? What happens to the children remaining here? Will their parents ever find them?

The Long, Long, Long-Term Traumatizing Effects of Abandonment

All my alarm bells go off and get louder as each day we hear professionals declaring this is child endangerment and emotional abuse and neglect.

I have learned a lot over the years about what happens to young children when they feel abandoned by their caretakers. I have learned about the damaging effects of abandonment from decades as a Child Protective Services and Long-term Placement Social Worker and as a psychotherapist in private practice. I understand how this kind of trauma leaves life-long imprints of fear and anxiety by disrupting the neural circuits in the brain.

I often blog about the effects of various types of abuse:

“Research shows that adrenaline and cortisol stress hormone levels are affected by fear or trauma and bring on a 'flight or fight or freeze' responses. What is the long term affect of these increased levels? And how do these spurts of adrenaline caused by anxiety result in depression, leading to even to more intense feelings of helplessness and overwhelm?

“The accompanying emotional messages of rejection and betrayal travel with the child into adulthood. These experiences will always determine how they view the safety of their world and the people in it.”

How will a child be able to trust again that they will be kept safe and secure? How can they trust that others will not hurt or abandon them?

And to be honest, my intense feelings about these children are personal as well. I’m having a visceral, PTSD-like reaction, most likely due to my own childhood traumatic abandonment experiences.

An impressive petition was sent out recently by Mental Health colleagues and is now also being signed by interested others. As mandated reporters of child abuse, neglect and endangerment, this group ’reported’ the transgressions connected with forcibly removing young children from their parents.

We would like you to remember what it feels like to be a child. To take a moment and remember how big and sometimes scary the world felt and how, if you were lucky, the adults in your life represented security and safety. We want you to remember what little say you had over what you did and what happened to you and that even though this was frustrating, some part of you trusted that your parents knew what was best for you. And that your physical and psychological survival depended on them.”

Here is the link to the petition and the original letter (written in early June and the number of children has increased 3x)


I’ve heard so many horrific stories regarding these infants, toddlers and children, yet I sensed something bigger and even more unsettling was nagging at me. I finally figured it out when I heard Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen accuse traffickers of using children as pawns, When she said the word “trafficking” I immediately realized my great fear for these children may be of eventual exploitation.

Realizing that many of these impounded children may never be able to reunite with their parents because of shoddy paperwork, misidentifying information and missing records, they may end up staying indefinitely in the ‘system’ which is not prepared to handle the numbers.

Some of these children may further fall through the cracks and even end up exploited by human traffickers. Someone this $32 billion-a-year industry will figure out there is money to be made from these children.

When I was a member of the Psychological Maltreatment Task Force of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) 30 years ago, we designated ‘Exploiting/Corrupting’ as a specific category of child maltreatment.

So let’s talk about this aspect of exploitation that no one wants to talk about.

Human trafficking, in fact, occupies a prominent place on the Department of Homeland Security website.

DHS defines Human Trafficking as:

  • Sex Trafficking
  • Forced Labor
  • Domestic Servitude

DHS makes an impressive effort to educate and warn, and yet they may actually be setting up a situation with these children where trafficking could proliferate.

If You ‘Follow the Money’ It Might Even Lead to Exploitation and Child Trafficking

DHS-Types of Human Trafficking graphic2We already know that there has been much money made by corporations exploiting the children by providing  shelter, flimsy blankets, tents, and transportation to the children separated from their parents border. And so far they have been unable to keep the children safe as we continue to learn about sexual, physical and emotional abuse in the shelters. ?

What about another kind of exploitation of  children where the government has deported or 'lost' their parents : Human Trafficking.

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s website, Human Trafficking is on the rise


Trafficking of children is defined as the "recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, and/or receipt" of a child for the purpose of slavery, forced labor and exploitation.

Children may also be trafficked for the purpose of adoption.”   


Let's play that last one again: "Children may also be trafficked for the purpose of adoption."

Might money be made by putting the ‘Tender Age’ youngest and most desirable of these babies and toddlers up for adoption?  I've been having surreal visions of endless processions of prospective adoptive parents touring the “Tender Age” nursery.

Is there money to be made by arranging forced labor or domestic servitude of the older children? Over 200 million children are engaged in forced child labor.


And what about the already high incidence of child pornography and prostitution in this country? Are there people who might make money here? According to DHS statistics 300,000 Americans under 18 are lured into the commercial sex trade every year. What a frightening statistic.

As a mental health professional I’ve been paying close attention for decades to human trafficking statistics and stories. I’m well aware of the alarming incidence of human trafficking (50%) involving children.                                                                              

Over the years I’ve talked with children rescued from trafficking and with adults still recovering from the trauma of being trafficked as children.

The statistics are staggering and there is much to educate ourselves about . . .


The U.S. State Department issued a 254 page Human Trafficking report in 2017: https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/271339.pdf

One of my favorite resources is The Polaris Project which offers education and support: https://www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking

 Yes, there could be lots of nefarious ways to exploit these thousands of children separated from their parents. However they are already being exploited by the tens of millions of dollars being paid to companies and nonprofit groups for shelters and transportation. And the longer they languish in these facilities, the more money is paid out. Someone is getting very rich.

Stay Connected

There are lots of ways to stay connected to the organizations that are mobilizing to help these children and their parents reunite.

RAICES (https://www.raicestexas.org/) the largest immigration legal services provider in Texas, provided free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children, families, and refugees

And through RAICES there is also the LEAF PROJECT: donations provide legal representation and advocacy for unaccompanied children, which dramatically increase odds of a successful asylum claim and reduce vulnerability to abuse: https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/leafund

The Texas Tribune has a comprehensive list or resources:


These are a good start although every day I've been receiving additional links on ways to help out.

To me, the thought of the emotional struggles these children will be encountering the rest of their lives from the trauma of separation is just staggering.

I’m wondering if you have thoughts to share as well?

And you may be interested in an earlier blog I wrote about migrant children being separated from their families:

When a Parent Goes Missing – Bouncing From Security to Despair


Update notes:


I started writing this blog about abandonment and exploitation a couple of weeks ago. I kept delaying publishing it because the news was changing daily and it was hard to keep up.

Now I see the 2018 State Department Trafficking in Persons Report describes the connection between child institutionalization and human trafficking:

Child Institutionalization and Human Trafficking

"The international community agrees that a family caregiving setting, or an alternative solution that is appropriate and culturally sensitive, is the most conducive environment for the growth, well-being, and safety of children. Removal of a child from the family should only be considered as a temporary, last resort. Studies have found that both private and government-run residential institutions for children, or places such as orphanages and psychiatric wards that do not offer a family-based setting, cannot replicate the emotional companionship and attention found in family environments that are prerequisites to healthy cognitive development. Yet, about eight million children worldwide live in these facilities, even though an estimated 80 to 90 percent of them have at least one living parent. The physical and psychological effects of staying in residential institutions, combined with societal isolation and often subpar regulatory oversight by governments, place these children in situations of heightened vulnerability to human trafficking."

And isn't this exactly what we are doing? Removing children from their parents and placing them in institutional facilities - in some cases it will most likely be indefinitely.


Today it was announced by Health and Human Services that the number of detained children is close to 3,000 including  100 children under the age of 5. A day ago the announced number was just over 2,000. What will we learn next?

HHS announces they will comply with the court imposed deadline for reunification by swabbing cheeks for DNA testing. The deadline is July 10, all children under 5 have to be reunited. By 7/26 for all the children over age of 5.

And news outlets have been reporting that parents will be reunited with their children only if they give up claims for asylum and agree to deportation with their children.

 2/27/19   This just in from NPR:

Sexual Assault Of Detained Migrant Children Reported In The Thousands Since 2015

In each of the past four years, 1,000 or more immigrant children who arrived at the southern U.S. border without their parents have reported being sexually abused while in government custody, according to federal records released Tuesday.

The data from the Department of Health and Human Services was made public by Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., before a congressional hearing on the Trump administration's policy of separating migrant families.


6/20/19  And another:

Are US child migrant detainees entitled to soap and beds?

DOJ attorney Sarah Fabian says migrant children do not need soap or toothbrushes and  Circuit Judge William Fletcher questioned the government's reasoning.

"Are you arguing seriously that you do not read the agreement as requiring you to do anything other than what I just described: cold all night long, lights on all night long, sleeping on concrete and you've got an aluminum foil blanket?"

He added that it was "inconceivable" that the government would describe those conditions as "safe and sanitary".

Imagine! It has been reported there is no soap, toothbrushes, blankets, showers, clean clothes or even diapers for these detained children.


6/21/19   And now this:

4 Severely Ill Migrant Toddlers Hospitalized After Lawyers Visit Border Patrol Facility

Four toddlers were so severely ill and neglected at a U.S. Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas, that lawyers forced the government to hospitalize them last week.

The children, all under age 3 with teenage mothers or guardians, were feverish, coughing, vomiting and had diarrhea. Some of the toddlers and infants were refusing to eat or drink. One 2-year-old’s eyes were rolled back in her head, and she was “completely unresponsive.”


7/12/19   “...many separated children were kept in government custody far longer than previously known....”

“The Trump Administration’s child separations were more harmful, traumatic, and chaotic than previously known,” the rHouse Oversight Committee report said.

The report also found that “many separated children were kept in government custody far longer than previously known,” including 25 held for more than a year, more than 50 held for six months to a year and at least 679 held for 46 to 75 days.

The data covers the 2,648 children separated from their parents after the "zero tolerance" policy was announced in April of 2018. The data does not include "information about thousands of additional children separated" prior to April of last year.


8/16/19   And now we have yet another example of exploitation - reports of abuse of migrant children in foster homes . . . Can you imagine the amount of professional help these abandoned and even molested children are going to need for many years?

Claims: Migrant children molested in US-funded foster care

AP and PBS report:
After local Guatemalan officials burned down an environmental activist’s home, he decided to leave his village behind and flee to the United States, hoping he’d be granted asylum and his little boy, whose heart was failing, would receive lifesaving medical care.

But after crossing the border into Arizona in May of last year, Border Patrol agents tore the man’s 7-year-old son from his arms and sent the father nearly 2,000 miles (3,220 kilometers) away to a detention center in Georgia. The boy, now 8, went into a U.S.-funded foster home for migrant children in New York.

The father and son are among dozens of families — separated at the border as part of the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy — who are now preparing to sue the federal government, including several who say their young children were sexually, physically or emotionally abused in federally funded foster care.

The Guatemalan father, now living in Southern California, is still struggling to soothe his son’s lasting nightmares. He says his once talkative and outgoing third-grader is now withdrawn and frequently says he wants to leave this world.

9/4/19  From USA Today:  According to the report from the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services migrant children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy suffered a wide range of mental trauma, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The children, many of whom had already endured extreme mental and physical trauma in their home countries, were hit with a second round of distress when they were separated from their parents by U.S. officials.
Some of the diagnoses are; Acute stress, Anxiety & impulsivity•Adjustment disorder •Disorganized thinking•Major depressive disorder•Mood disorder•Panic disorder•Sleep disruption•Self-injurious behavior•Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)  Pages 31-32

Be sure and read my note about Congresswoman Jackie Speier's response to this blog concerning the children . . . in the "comments" section.

Thanks for listening to my concerns about abandonment. I'd very much like to hear your feelings about what's been happening . . .

© Elayne Savage, PhD

Until next month . . .


Elayne Savage is the author of ground-breaking relationship books published in 9 languages.

Both books are now available on Kindle!??



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